Gjoa Haven MLA deplores state of community’s makeshift morgue

‘It is not a pretty sight to see,’ says Tony Akoak

Gjoa Haven is using an old storage shed as its morgue. ‘It’s not a pretty sight,’ MLA Tony Akoak said in the legislature on March 4. (Screenshot from video provided by James Dulac)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak is pushing for his community to receive a proper morgue, rather than the “aging and unsuitable storage shed” that he says serves that purpose now.

Akoak recently raised the matter in the legislature, after receiving a letter from one of his constituents, who said he was shocked at the treatment of the body of a close friend who died by suicide.

James Dulac writes that when he entered the building, he saw his friend’s frozen body in an RCMP bag on the ground, with another body’s head resting on his friend’s feet.

The body was frozen with one arm and leg twisted, and was “covered” in blood, still wearing boots, Dulac wrote on Jan. 5. Because of the position, the body couldn’t be properly dressed and couldn’t fit in a coffin.

Dulac wrote that he then went to the Co-op and bought a blanket and two pillows. He wrapped his friend in the blanket and “had to improvise,” putting the body in a plywood box.

“Our loved ones … when saying goodbye to this world, deserve respect, deserve to be treated with dignity,” Dulac wrote.

Having a proper morgue is “not a luxe, it is a right, it is a need,” he said in the letter.

There is no electricity or heat in the facility and there is sawdust and snow on the floor.

Dulac said in the letter he has brought his concerns up with the hamlet several times, but just keeps hearing getting a proper facility is on the agenda.

A storage shed in Gjoa Haven is used as the community’s morgue. (Photo provided by James Dulac)

Akoak brought up the makeshift morgue in the legislature on March 4.

“It is not a pretty sight to see,” he said.

He asked Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s community and government services minister, for an update on plans to provide proper morgues in Nunavut communities, but she said she did not have an update available.

This isn’t the first time he’s brought it up. Akoak requested an update from the minister of the time, Lorne Kusugak, on Oct. 23.

He said then that Kusugak had previously told him the department was “committed to assisting municipalities with the costs of converting a surplus building into a morgue and visitation area,” with funding of up to $250,000.

At the time, Kusugak said he did not know how many communities had applied for the funding. Last week, Ehaloak similarly said she was not aware of any applications for the funding.

Mustafa Eric, a communications officer with the Department of Community and Government Services, said in an email on Wednesday that the department has two funding programs to help municipalities improve morgue facilities.

In January of this year, the department requested a meeting with the hamlet of Gjoa Haven to discuss the morgue facility, Eric said.

He said the meeting hasn’t happened yet, “but we are confident we will be able to assist the community in meeting their needs in this area.”

The department purchased two portable morgues that can store 12 bodies in May 2020, for about $40,000 each.

They have been in Iqaluit since they arrived in June and have not been used, but are available for situations that result in mass fatalities, he said.

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by tuktuborel on

    Every community has seacans available.

    These could be converted to decent morgue using local skills to renovate and wire up. Two seacans could be welded together to make a facility suitable for securing the deceased and it would not cost thousands of dollars to complete.

    • Posted by Buffalo on

      I agree with tuktuborl, renovated and wire. Or get a crematorium on site for the North. I would love to be put on the land for the animals to enjoy. But that is illegal

      • Posted by Shane Sather on

        I like this idea too of being laid out on the land. I think it can be done but now a days one likely requires a permit and I don’t know if this has been addressed for Inuit owned Lands.

  2. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    We thank honourable Tony Akoak for bringing this up in the House.

    it’s 2021 and every Community needs a respectable place for their loved ones to be while the funeral is being arranged. a Family should be able to hold a visitation with loved ones before going to the actual Funeral. it’s imperative this is taken care of right away.

    sea cans are for storage of goods and equipment. not loved ones.

    could you imagine this happening anywhere else except the North? would never happen.

    Honourable Jeannie Ehaloak, you have had time to look into this, please do.

    • Posted by tuktuborel on

      To the comment sea cans are only for storage of goods and equipment.

      Sea cans have been used to make many beautiful homes and other accommodations around the world. In Gjoa Haven they are even used to grow food in them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with repurposing a sea can into a home or in this situation a morgue. A sea can is a near perfect frame.

      Look outside the box. To built anything in the North it is very costly and just about every community needs a morgue. Special million dollar single purpose structures we don’t need. A sea can can be designed for any type of building.

      I am just suggesting a way to make it possible for communities to have a good morgue without breaking the bank.

      • Posted by Burkan Hare on

        Is cremation expensive ? I have no idea.
        With 2 lines of shelves in a C-CAN, located at the cemetery, that would work ? As a morgue.
        Good inspiration , Tuktuborel, many uses for C-CANS.
        Some people might prefer a sea burial ?
        A pre – colonial burial, go for it !
        Whatever folks. We are all the same in death.

    • Posted by Dismantle Colonial practices on

      Morgues and viewing deceased bodies are European colonial traditions that we don’t need. Let’s decolonize and do it the traditional Inuit way.

  3. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Actually it happened in a lot of places during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many municipalities did not have room in their morgues so bodies were stored in “reefer” trucks.
    This was more common in places in the U.S., both in large cities and in smaller locations but I’m sure that the same has occurred in Canadian cities.
    Nunavut does have more of an issue due to the length of the winter. Really the GN needs to have a list of facilities rolled into the planning for buildings such as nursing/medical stations to look after this sort of thing.

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